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8th November 1998

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Reflections on DA Rajapakse

By Sam Wijesinha

When we reflect on the late D.A. Rajapakse, Member for Hambantota in the State Council from 1945 to 1947 and for Beliatta in the House of Representatives from 1947 to 1965, we should ponder over the representation of our people in the legislature since its inception in 1833.

The British government in this country began in 1795 and within a few years the all powerful Governor Frederick North had a semblance of discussion with a Council of three Members with which he was supposed to consult so that it might appear that laws were passed by the "Governor in Council".

What seemed a one-man government was changed in 1833 after the Colebrook-Cameron Commission, when a Legislative and an Executive Council formed for the whole island which was now divided into five provinces. The Legislative Council was presided over by the governor himself. It had eight officials and six unofficial Members appointed by the governors. Of the six, three represented the Europeans, and one each represented the Sinhalese, Tamils and Burghers. This system continued till 1889 when two more unofficial members were added, one to represent the Kandyan Sinhalese and the other to represent the Muslims. By this time the original five provinces were increased to nine as a result of redemarcation.

In 1912 the principle of election of Members was introduced but on a restricted franchise. Those who qualified as "Educated Ceylonese" - 2934 in number, elected one, 2149 Burghers elected one and the 1306 Europeans elected two. So to these four "elected" Members were added six more nominated members. Hence there were ten unofficial members as against eleven official members - thus retaining the official majority.

In 1921 on a slightly restricted franchise sixteen members were elected of whom three were for the Western Province and one for each of the other eight provinces. As mentioned earlier the original five provinces of 1833 were increased to nine by 1889. To the eleven thus elected for the Provinces, three were elected for the Europeans, one for the Burghers and for the recently formed "Low-Country Products Association". A feature of this election was that a candidate for any of the Provincial seats had to be a resident therein. This was a cautious step by the governor to prevent what today we call the "parachuting" of candidates from Colombo as prospectives in the Provinces. Hence the first elected Member for the Southern Province was O.C. Thilakaratne of Matara and so were D.H. Kotalawala of Badulla elected for Uva and S.D. Krisnaratne of Anuradhapura elected for the North Central Province.

In 1924 some of the "One Member" Provinces had their quota increased. Thus Southern Province Western Division (Galle District) elected C. W. W. Kannangara who had represented the Southern Province itself for a short time in the previous Legislative Council. Southern Province Central Division (Matara District) elected F. A. Obeysekara who had his origins in Kataluwa and the Southern Province Eastern Division (Hambantota District) elected V. S. de S. Wickramanayake a lawyer practising for long in Tangalle, incidentally defeating G. K. W. Perera by the narrowest margin of 17 votes at that election.

By 1924, D. M. Rajapakse of Weeraketiya having had his education at Richmond College Galle and then at Wesley College, Colombo where he captained the College cricket team returned home to his village instead of seeking whatsoever employment that was available outside for a rural youth who had had a fair knowledge of English - a rare achievement at that time.

The Mudaliyar of the West Giriwa Pattu appeared very hostile to D. M. and was insulting whenever the occasion arose. He fought back courageously without yielding to officialdom. He organized peasants' agitations for rural development, roads, schools, hospitals and land and the restoring of village tanks and channels. He stood up for the cause of the neglected villages and the opressed poor. At last there was a local leader to oppose the rule of the Gate Mudaliyar.

At the 1931 State Council elections under the Donoughmore Constitution which granted the vote to everyone above 21 years of age the Hambantota constituency was contested by V. S. de S. Wickramanayke and the late Mudaliyar Harry O. Jayawardene. Wickramanayake was supported by D. M. and inflicted a resounding defeat on his opponent. By the time of the 1936 State Council election D. M. was ready for the fray. He marshalled "Viridu" singers, "Raban" players etc. and won his election with a majority of over 15,000 votes - almost a record at that time.

Once in the State Council, as the first son of the soil to represent the Hambantota District he carried on his objectives which he visualized as a school leaver in the 1920's. However he died before his time in May 1945, barely 50 years of age, muttering under his dying breath that he could not do enough for his people of Ruhunu.

A lot of coercion and pressure and extensive requests from many delegations ultimately pushed D. A. Rajapakse, DM's younger brother, to the Hambantota Kachcheri on nomination day clad in the famous "Kurakkan" shawl added to his new national dress. None dared to come forward against D. M.'s family. Moreover many thought that elections would be held soon under the new Soulbury Constitution.

However the new elections were postponed till the latter part of 1947. Meanwhile D. A. did not change his simple ways and remained the same old village gentleman who had moved with his people without either putting on weight or adopting any pretences. He set about providing land for the landless, water for the cultivators and above all giving a patient hearing to the people to whom he made himself available at all times. He lived in a single room at "Sravasti" the M. P.'s hostel. He had no house in Colombo, only a utility vehicle. His only wealth was a happy house in Weeraketiya where he had lived with his devoted wife and his family of three daughters and six sons.

He was never a rich man and died almost 30 years ago, a little over 60 years of age. When S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike resigned in 1951 from the UNP because he felt that the independence we got in 1947 was being wasted on wrong priorities and crossed the floor of the House abandoning his Ministry and being Leader of the House, a loyal follower who walked behind him across the floor of the House was D. A. Although he appeared a mild man he was of tremendous courage and loyalty.

Why do we remember him with affection? He bore no ill-will towards anyone. He very rarely got angry. His eldest son Chamal who is in Parliament is a living replica of his father in physical appearance and quiet conduct. Three of his sons, I understand, have settled in the USA, one of them a retired Colonel of the Sri Lankan Army and another a Soviet Union qualified engineer.

D. A.'s greatest contribution appears to many to be his son Mahinda who first came to Parliament in 1970. It is well known that he is a matured senior Parliamentarian who has inherent courage and professional skill. His practical experience is far more useful than mere bookishness. He can handle any Ministry. Even if he is made the Minister without portfolio he will make even that attractive and enviable. He is forthright in his views and courageous in expressing them. He is a practical politician from the South whose capacity and leadership qualities cannot be ignored. We remember D. A. for many reasons, foremost among them as the father of Mahinda Rajapaksa.

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